During its recent visit to the BVI the Royal Navy Lynx helicopter based on HMS Manchester took part in a joint training exercise with members of Virgin Islands Search and Rescue. The exercise involved 11 members of VISAR and both the rescue vessels – Spirit of Tortola based in Road Town and Gorda Peak from Spanish Town, as well as the four-man Lynx crew from HMS Manchester. The aim of the exercise was to practice winching drills, which is the ability of VISAR to safely work underneath the helicopter while underway.
Initially two members of the Royal Navy were winched down to the VISAR vessel Spirit, one of whom stayed on board to oversee the exercise for the duration of the training, while the other member, the winchman, participated in the actual winching. A total of five VISAR crewmembers were lifted into the Lynx, which is said to be the second oldest in Navy Service, and then recovered back to Spirit. The conditions were not ideal, with a somewhat fluctuating south easterly wind blowing at up to 15 knots causing a choppy sea. This made recovering personnel back to the boat both tricky for the helm and also potentially dangerous.
Gerard Kraakman, one of the VISAR helms said: "The hardest thing for me was to keep our boat in a steady position underneath the helicopter, sometime the helicopter would be blown slightly off course and I had to chase it, making sure when the winch was lowered, that the boat was underneath it so that the people were positioned safely."
After over 45 minutes of continuous training, the helicopter had to return to the ship, which was now underway to her next port of call. The training was a tremendous success and was a benefit to all VISAR members who participated, building confidence and helping to promote teamwork, as well preparing the crew in case the eventuality of winching operations during a real rescue.